Distinguished members of this High Level Group on Gender Equality in sport,

Dear friends of sport,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to open the first meeting of this High Level Group on Gender Equality in sport.

Sport plays a fundamental role in our society. It helps us connect to each other. It forms communities and brings people together. At a time when we are struggling with a global pandemic, it helps us strengthen our mental and physical health.

Sport also reflects our values. Teamwork. Inclusion. Effort and perseverance.

All should have the opportunity to benefit from the benefits of Sport – women and men, girls and boys.

Equality between women and men is a fundamental principle of our Union. Enshrined in our Treaties. It is something we actively try to achieve – most recently through the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2021-2025, where women and men, girls and boys, in all their diversity, are free to pursue their chosen path in life, have equal opportunities to thrive, and can equally participate in and lead our European society. Sport should be no exception.

Now, we are seeing more and more women and girls practicing sport. An unprecedented media attention on major events such as the Women’s World Cup in France. And a growing number of women taking to leadership positions.

Just look at Bulgaria, where the president of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee is a woman, Stefka Kostadinova, who has been occupying this high since 2005. But we know we need to do more she remains very much an exception.

Women athletes, women coaches, leaders and advocates are changing the image of sport, making it more inclusive. They inspire fellow women to do the same. This is good for us as individuals – but  also for the sport community – a community that wants to grow.

There is however the threat that the crisis erases this momentum as sport events continue to be cancelled. Indeed, women’s sport seems to be disproportionately affected by the crisis

A UN Women brief published recently demonstrates the negative impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in different areas such as leadership, gender-based violence, media representation or girl’s participation in sport.

This is not something we can tolerate.

This is why I decided to launch this High Level Group on Gender Equality. The recovery strategy from the COVID-19 crisis does have a gender equality dimension. It is up to us to seize this opportunity.

The promotion of gender equality in sport has a dual benefit: One the one hand, sport can contribute to the overall promotion of gender equality. On the other hand, more gender balance is beneficial for the sport sector itself.

Women can contribute to greater diversity in sport and combat gender stereotypes, as they become role models, inspiring younger generations. Sports organisations also benefit from better participation of women as athletes, coaches or leading members of organisations.

If we look at the steps already taken after the adoption of the Gender Equality in Sport – Proposal for Strategic Actions 2014-2020, many things have already been achieved.

First, gender equality in sport has been a general principle underpinning all priorities eligible for funding under Erasmus+ Sport, and projects supporting women's sport have been actively encouraged.

Let me stress three of those among many others:

1. The SCORE project (Strengthening Coaching with the Objective to Raise Equality) focused on increasing the number of employed and volunteer female coaches, raising awareness of gender equality in coach education.

2. She Runs Active Girl’s Lead, gathered 2 000 girls’ aged 15 to18 coming from more than 35 countries, encouraging them to engage in physical activity and acquire new competences through sport.

3. ALL IN: Towards gender balance in sport, provided support to public authorities, sport organisations when designing, and implementing policies and programmes addressing gender inequalities in sport. This support continues to inform policy-makers today.

Secondly, awareness raising has been as the core of the EU action in this field, notably through studies or discussions among relevant stakeholders, such as within the Commission Expert Group on Good Governance.

Finally, initiatives such as the #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards annually recognise sport organisations using the power of sport to increase social inclusion, including gender equality in sport.

As you can see, we are not starting from scratch.

Our work towards gender equality is essential. And you are in a privileged position to have a real impact. Now is the time to define our future strategic actions.

You have a proven record. You have the expertise we need in the field of gender equality – coming from different backgrounds: from athletes to presidents of sport federations, from academics to advocates and politicians.

Your past work went a long way to bringing gender equality to the table. That meant projects getting funded. It meant studies getting published. You have the support of our Member States, of the Sport movement – and of the EU, myself included.

Now is the time to build on this momentum. Also because we have the right set of tools.

An EU Work Plan for Sport 2021-2024 that puts gender equality as a core principle, a reinforced and new Erasmus+ Programme, an ever successful European Week of Sport that could raise the awareness and a promising High Level Group of experts.

Before concluding, let me share with you an ongoing initiative on which I am working: the HealthlyLifestyle4All.

It intends to follow up on the Tartu Call for a Healthy Lifestyle, strengthening the inter-sectorial dimension and adding new elements such as innovation, skills, youth and gender. From the title, you can see that inclusion is at its core. I would be interested in hearing from you concrete recommendations that could feed in this work.

I wish you a good meeting and good luck for your coming mandate. You can count on my support to achieve our common goals.

Thank you.